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It’s one thing to be taking on the might of BMW, Mercedes and Audi at a game they’ve been playing for years (the X5 has been around for 17 years, the X3, 13 years). But Porsche? That’s a whole new kettle of fish, especially if your new SUV will vigorously bang the handling drum. And so it came to be that the Macan’s launch put the F-Pace programme on hold for eight weeks while Jaguar engineers shifted their internal goalposts after murdering apexes with the baby Cayenne. The Cayenne, especially in GTS and Turbo guise, had already ensured the phrase ‘Performance SUV’ was no longer an oxymoron, but Porsche’s new compact SUV had knocked the accepted benchmark right out of the bloody park; in fact it had made a high-riding sports car and forced the F-Pace’s chassis team back to the drawing board.
Whether Jaguar has succeeded in matching the Macan is the task at hand this afternoon as we begin the climb up the Lap of Mutha, our favourite – and rather convenient – driving route just outside Pune. Everybody loves SUVs these days: in India where those weird sub 4-metre hatchbacks are being kicked in the nuts by sub 4-metre SUVs; in the USA where they always liked oversized cup holders in equally oversized sport-utes; in Europe where they’ve always been sensible; in China where big has always been so much better that they’ve been stretching everything out, including the 3 Series and the C-Class. The F-Pace, then, has the potential to straight-up double Jaguar’s volumes, especially in key markets like North America. With a bulging file of pre-orders it’s already the fastest-selling Jaguar in history, and that’s before any test drives have been given out. For Jaguar this is a transformational vehicle. But is it worthy of being on the cover of a magazine that screams The Thrill of Driving?
What is it?
First things first, the steering is wonderfully linear with great clarity coming through to the finger tips. The F-Pace, Jaguar’s first ever SUV, isn’t based on a platform borrowed from sister brand Land Rover – it would have been the easiest thing to do. Instead it is based on the D7a all-aluminium architecture that debuted on the XE sedan (and the new XF whose deliveries will start soon in India) and will be offered to Land Rover to underpin its upcoming ‘Super-Evoque’ that will sit between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport. Eighty one per cent of the F-Pace’s parts are unique and 80 per cent of the body is aluminium with steel used for the rear floorpan (to improve weight distribution) and doors (the tail gate is composite). Those interested in saving the world will note with pleasure that recycled aluminium, which takes 95 per cent less energy to produce, makes up a third of the weight and the intent is to take it all the way up to 75 per cent in the next four years across the range. And the key benefit of all this aluminium is the F-Pace is – and crucially, feels – light.
Fun to drive?
The next few corners of the Lap of Mutha are taken with more vigour, the descriptive steering immediately infusing you with confidence and a sense of the limits being rather high. As you flick it left, right and left again for the esses the F-Pace feels light on its feet and exhibits a keenness to change direction that is most un-SUV-like. Truth be told the driving doesn’t feel very different from the XE I drove up here a few months ago, except that you’re sitting considerably higher. The XE, to recap, drives very well. It can also wag its tail but that’s something the all-wheel drive F-Pace doesn’t want to do. You can feel the torque vectoring at work, ever so slightly rotating the rear to reduce the degree of the corner, but equally quickly the torque shuffles to the front to pull the F-Pace out with more grip, vigour and composure than in the sedan. In all this, the tyres haven’t even begun to squeal and roll is noticeable by its complete absence.
Roll stiffness was one of the key revisions to the F-Pace, courtesy the Macan. Later on I re-read the F-Pace review by our UK colleagues and they have some figures – the roll gradient of 4.5 degrees per g being reduced to 3.5, all because of the baby Porsche; all to make it handle like a sports car.
I push a little harder and, at eight-tenths, the F-Pace does a very good sports car impression, albeit one in which you’re sitting unnaturally high. Ultimately it takes Porsche-speeds to get the 19-inch tyres to squeal; for the F-Pace to lean on its side, start to push wide and tell you enough is enough. It’s at ten-tenths, where you can make a Macan oversteer, that the Jaguar defaults to understeer. But it has to be said the Jag is also more benign, easier to handle on the limit, than the Porsche. The F-Pace does have sports car tech, the Intelligent Driveline Dynamics (IDD) sensor that compliments the high-torque, on-demand all-wheel drive being borrowed from the F-Type. The F-Pace is primarily rear-wheel drive but the IDD uses a bunch of info, including yaw rate, lateral acceleration and steering wheel angle, to shuffle power to the wheels where it can be deployed most effectively.
We are driving the all-singing, all-dancing F-Pace, the one crore rupee R-Sport that gets the 3-litre V6 diesel kicking out 296bhp and a whopping 700Nm of torque. The twin-turbo motor takes a claimed 6.2 seconds to hit 100kmph, which is pretty darn quick, but even more impressive is the mid-range torque that absolutely demolishes the short straights on the Lap of Mutha. The ZF 8-speed gearbox is an equally impressive accomplice and in Dynamic mode bangs in faster, and evidently harder, shifts. But the V6 isn’t a very silent unit; the Germans do a much better job of making a V6 feel like butter. And the ride is stiff.
How about the ride?
Not back breaking stiff, but stiff nevertheless. Porsche makes the Macan handle a slight bit better while making it ride more than a slight bit better. That said the F-Pace is very close to the astonishing dynamic brilliance of the Macan, and just getting there is bloody impressive. And then the F-Pace has something no other SUV has. Sex appeal.
Will it turn heads?
You have eyes and I leave you to draw your own conclusions on whether Ian Callum has been successful in crafting Jag cues on to an SUV. But I will tell you this – in the metal (aluminium!), the F-Pace looks sexy as hell. Over three generations the Cayenne has successfully morphed into a good looking SUV and the Macan is even nicer on the eyes but neither have the sheer sexiness that Jaguar manages so effortlessly these days. All this, while being unmistakably a Jaguar. It even has F-Type tail lamps! I think this is the most gorgeous SUV in the business right now, but of course you’re free to disagree.
On the inside too, this is familiarly Jaguar in the Riva-speedboat sweep that runs across the cabin, the high sills, shallow glass area, cylindrical gear knob that whirrs up from its flush position on the centre console and furnishings. The brooding black theme and gorgeous blue back lighting lends the cabin a very night club-by feel, allied to adjustable mood lighting. And you can have your seats in red leather, turning the F-Pace into a (very fast) boudoir. You can even adjust the graphics of the instrument cluster to a very minimalistic speedo and rev counter outline and crank up the fantastic Meridian sound system to get yourself in the mood.
On the practical side of things, there is a decent amount of space at the back, as much as a Q5 and more than a Macan, and a very useful full-size spare wheel though the domed shroud for it eats into boot space (though by nowhere as much as a space saver spare strapped into the boot). There are also detail improvements over other Jaguar cabins, chief among them being the InConnect touchscreen that is no longer ponderous and works as well as Volvo’s class-leading screens. It also has a display for the IDD showing which end the torque is being shuffled to; further poking around reveals some tech borrowed from Land Rover – surround cameras to make off-roading easier and All Surface Progress Control that is a low-speed cruise control where you can set the speed between 3 to 30kmph and just steer while the F-Pace will juggle braking and throttle to keep you on the straight and narrow. There’s also Adaptive Surface Response that acts like Land Rover’s Terrain Response except here the F-Pace’s brain decides what surface you’re on and adjusts things accordingly. We didn’t try it all out, but when Land Rover engineers are in the same office, you kind of expect the F-Pace to do things you shouldn’t be doing off-road with something that costs well over a crore of rupees.
As night falls over the Mulshi valley what I can tell you is this: the F-Pace is as good to drive as it is to behold. It remains, like all Jaguars, a little too pricey (though the 2-litre F-Pace does start at Rs 68.4 lakh) but when your target audience comprises rich and famous celebrities, that shouldn’t matter (in the launch phase). As for it being the ‘practical sports car’ I’m not sure about your views but I’m finding it hard to dismiss that as nonsense.